Black Girl in Midlife

Recently a disgruntled reader left a comment on my personal Facebook page telling me that I am self-absorbed and not doing anything for the Black people of Maine. Initially, I was pissed off but upon further reflection, I realized that I am in a stage of my life where from the outside, I probably do appear to be self-absorbed.

And your know what? That is okay.

There comes a time when one has to put themselves first and tend to their own mental, emotional, and physical gardens—and I would say that for Black women, there is an urgent imperative to do so. Midlife is the perfect time to accept that we cannot be all things to all people. 

As I settle deeper into this journey of midlife, I am coming to realize that there are limits to where I can place my time, talents, and treasures. I have spent the last 20 years immersed in creating systemic change through anti-racism work. But here in midlife, I feel that calling taking a slight detour. Truthfully, as my therapist recently reminded me, I have been feeling that call for a while. But it has only been now, on the precipice of 50, that the call is becoming louder. 

My view and my focus is also changing. I cannot deny the intersection of aging, gender, and race and that aging part is becoming very personal and powerful. Everything in our society is done through a racial lens, but how does that lens shift as we age? 

Sure, there are common aging factors regardless of race. For instance, if you possess a uterus, as you enter your late 40s and 50s, you will probably enter that secret rite of passage also known as menopause, or the change of life. But as I have learned in recent months, race and lived experience can determine how you experience this almost universal reality. 

Did you know that Black women often enter menopause earlier than their white counterparts and have worse symptoms than white women? In other words, hot flashes, depression, and sleep disturbances can be harder on Black women and we are less likely to receive hormonal therapy or overall support for this time of life. No doubt, the fact that we aren’t even seen as fully human when it comes to pain medications and the like also plays a role in people not hearing how hard the change of life can be for some of us. 

I can absolutely attest to this, as I have spent the past several months deep in the throes of living with hot flashes. It has been a living hell. I have felt like a prisoner in my own body. Guess what else? It turns out that women with a history of anxiety can have an increase in anxiety at this time of life. My hot flashes trigger anxiety attacks and I can have upwards of 20 episodes a day.

Throw in the racial differences and, well, my symptoms have been far more severe than any of the white women I know. Even bringing it up casually with white friends, there have been moments where it felt like I was perceived as being a whiner. While I am glad that my white associates and friends haven’t been damn near debilitated by his stage of life, for me it has turned my life upside down. 

Until the last few days, I have spent this year not only dealing with relentless physical discomfort, but a low-grade mental malaise. I feel an incessant pressure to not be old, but at the same time, I am aging. Which makes sense in a youth-obsessed culture but is ludicrous when you are swimming in middle age with kids and grandkids. It is a denial of self. 

In fact, it is a denial of wisdom accumulated and, as a middle-aged Black woman, I think of all the older Black women who played a critical role in shaping me as a person and more specifically as a woman. Now as I dance to crone-dom, it saddens me that as I look at the younger generations, there is a shortage of Black elders.

Aging is not the end; it is a continuation of the journey. And in Black American culture, it is older Black women who have historically played a vital part in our communities. I want to move gracefully toward that place. I hope that just as the women who have now passed who left their imprint on me, that I will carry their spirit with me and that I can have that impact on someone. I hope that when I am long gone from this rock, my name will be uttered by someone other than my kids and grandkids as having impacted them in an important and positive way. 

As a writer and change-maker, my work has always been rooted in my lived experiences. Those experiences created this space back in 2008, when I had a toddler and teenager and needed an outlet to explore the uncomfortable reality of raising Black children in an extremely white state. 

Now as I enter the heart of midlife, as a twice-divorced Black mother, grandmother, and matriarch with a career spanning the decades, I just realized that I still need a place to explore these intersections. This year, my most popular post on the blog has been writing about my adventures in dating as a middle-aged Black woman. In some ways, that shouldn’t be surprising. The invisibility of women at middle age is doubly hard on middle-aged Black women. When Black women are young, we are seen as oversexed lascivious Jezebels, but as we age we fade into mammyville or worse. 

The idea that we might actually be romantic, intimate, and sexual beings who desire companionship does not compute for many. I mean, grandma still wanting loving isn’t what most think of when they think of a grandmother. Throw in being a Black grandmother and again, it doesn’t compute for many. Ironically enough, I am far more interested in that part of my life than I was 20 years ago. Even with the discomfort of perimenopause, let’s just say I still have plenty of fire left in my belly and in other places. That’s a story for another time though. 

Just as I am entering the second act in my life, I am realizing that this space will also be entering its second act. While most of my writing will be on Patreon starting early in 2023, there will still be posting on the site. I am looking to write more on the intersections of aging and race beyond the data points. As I become an elder in anti-racist spaces including in my own job, where my staff and board are younger than me, I realize I am bringing a different lens to the work, beyond social media talking points. 

Change is hard, and it wasn’t easy to decide to change the format of this site. But at midlife, it is easy to become stagnant and not lean into the fullness of our truth if we fail to seek intentionality. I am not the same person I was when I started this site back in 2008, or even in 2016, when I decided to reboot the format. However, some things remain the same and my commitment to using my writing as an anti-racist tool remains unchanged. Dear reader, I hope you will continue on this journey with me, understanding that no matter what, we are called to create anti-racist spaces and praxis in our own lives. 

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Image by Andrey Zvyagintsev via Unsplash

1 thought on “Black Girl in Midlife”

  1. This 68 year old retired nurse truly felt this piece. Seems like ever since doctors realized they should not be giving hormones to eighty year olds, they decided to deprive the rest of us of temporary therapy that would make the process so much more comfortable. Waking up every hour to throw off our blankets, only to wake up freezing the next hour, makes an upcoming 12 hour shift just that much more difficult.And my experience as a nurse working with a diverse population is that Black people need better care than they usually receive. I hope it is getting better, but there is a lot of denial in health care as there is everywhere else.

    I believe this time of your life will be very productive. Best wishes.

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